The Cassay Horse
Eclectic Northeast|February 2021
A look at the Manipuri cavalry that won admiration for their extraordinary horsemen skills back in the day
Phanjoubam Chingkheinganba

The Cassay Horse is a Burmese appellation given to the Manipur cavalry who were forcibly brought as war captives and employed in various campaigns because of their effectiveness in Burmese wars during the military aggression of the Konbaung dynasty (1752-1885 CE), in which both Manipur and Assam were devastated. The celebrated, Kathe Horse, appeared in English books on Burma fame but are unknown in their own country. Kathe is the name applied to the Manipur Meiteis by the Burmese, since ancient times.

Superior Horseman Skills

Manipur Meiteis adored horses in the olden days and their extraordinary horseman skills were highly appreciated by the British officials, and Europeans during the colonial days. So much was the respect, that a deity ‘Marjing’ was attributed to ponies of the State.

E Dalton wrote, ‘Their enthusiastic love of horses and skills in equitation, have distinguished themselves. The national game was hockey placed on a small bred of pony back from which the British officers adopted it as a “manly amusements of the English in India.”’

The Manipur horseman was so highly prized that the Burmese Royalty during the 18th and 19th century maintained their cavalry, with war captives from Manipur. Konbaung would go on to devastate Manipur, Assam, and defeat the British in battles at the outbreak of the 1st Anglo-Burmese war (1824-26 CE) till their final defeat at the 3rd Anglo-Burmese war. Dr. New Ni Hlaing informs that Kathe Horseman formed a significant role in the Burmese army formation, and actively participated in successful battles against the Chinese, Siamese, and British. Records stated Cassay Horse fought both for and against the British as well.

Manipur’s Elite Force

During the medieval period, when Manipur asserted itself as a reckoning force in Upper Burma, her forces counted on the fast-riding horsemen to deal severe blows against the more advanced Burmese forces and other smaller Shan principalities.

Manipur valley was blessed with wetlands, provided the ponies a natural habitat where owners let them roam freely till their assistance was required for playing horse hockey ‘Sagol Kangjei’ or launch battles against hostile nations.

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